Depression is typically a response to life events
Depression is a debilitating mental health issue affecting around 10% of the population. For a very small minority there is a family history of depression, but for most people depression is a response to distressing life events.
Experiences such as redundancy and unemployment, finance issues, divorce and separation, relationship issues, illness or disability, problems at work, bereavement, experiences of trauma (directly or indirectly), changes in circumstances (having a baby, moving home, for example) or issues related to feeling marginalised in society (faith, race, LGBTQ), may result in feelings of depression or low-mood. Feeling isolated and without social support is also a key factor in becoming depressed.
Symptoms of depression
Overall depression can be seen as a response to a situation where there is significant loss, change, or lack of control in a person’s life. The symptoms of depression vary from person to person but may include changes in sleeping patterns (too much or too little), changes in appetite (comfort eating, or forgetting to eat), lethargy, morbid and negative thoughts (“I’m useless”; “I can’t be bothered”), feelings of hopelessness, a lack of concentration, and withdrawing from contact with other people, are not uncommon.
Counselling is recommended, but not always available on the NHS
While it is natural to go through a period of low mood whilst mourning a loss or change in life (bereavement, divorce, job loss, for example), feelings that are particularly intense or which do not lift after a period of time are usually cause for concern. At this point a GP would recommend talking therapy and possibly medication if the depression is very severe, although with NHS waiting times at a record high many GPs are now prescribing medication for mild to moderate depression possibly because access to talking therapies on the NHS is now quite limited.
Understanding your depression
The key to tackling depression is to get help as quickly as possible. Talking therapy is by far the best approach, especially when combined with other activities. My experience working as a therapist within the voluntary sector and in private practice with a wide range of people experiencing depressive symptoms is that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Certainly the first step is always to understand the impact of depression, the possible sources for the depression, as well as the support networks that might be available, and lifestyle factors.
Build resilience against depression
Overcoming depression is often a combination of understanding the reasons (often located in a loss or rejection) for the feelings that have been ‘depressed’, as well as building emotional resilience. We are far better able to deal with the emotional ebbs and flows of life if we are able to use our own ‘resilience toolbox’ to manage whatever feelings arise.
Resilience is the way that we adapt to adversity that ordinarily happens in life. It gives us the spring in our step to ‘bounce back’ from the impact of difficult situations. We build our own resilience through a process of understanding our triggers and responses, and developing ways of managing and coping. Developing interests that increase our self-esteem, understanding our needs and how to communicate them, and learning self-care and compassion techniques are key to building resilience.
Counselling for depression
My experience in helping people with depressive symptoms in therapy are that activities such as gentle exercise, journal writing, and emotional regulation activities such as breathing exercises or meditation can bring excellent results alongside talking therapy.